Monday, August 31, 2009

Nostalgia For The Days of 'Sunshine'

Somehow Lil Flip's 'Sunshine' wandered its way into my head, though I haven't heard it in 4 years, and I thought I'd write about it. 'Sunshine,' if you'll recall, was one of the most despised songs of the decade (despite, or rather in part because of, its somehow reaching #2 on the charts.*). 'Sunshine' was derided because Flip's rapping was incredibly lazy, it featured a lame r&b hook, it was really soft for a guy then regarded (and not entirely unjustly) as the South's Freestyle King, but most importantly because of that immortal line:

Spaghetti, shrimp, and steak, and I'll adore you
I'll treat you like milk, I'll do nothing but spoil you

An awful line, though maybe a goof like Kanye could pull it off. Anyway, Flip really half-asses it and so it sucks. Nevertheless, as a piece of songwriting and production, the tune is not without a certain candified craft of the sort found in Ja Rule/Ashanti collabos of that period; actually, the whole thing plays out a bit like a really stilted 'Always On Time.' (They both feature a cute little acoustic guitar line, a line, which, on similar songs of the era, will often waver into 'Maria Maria' pastiche.) Which, depending on what you think of 'Always On Time,' isn't the worst thing in the world. I guess what I want to say then is a couple things.

One, though 'Sunshine' isn't a great exemplar of the bubblegum rap aesthetic of its day, it is, for what it's worth, a song that could never have been made this year or the year before. Precisely because that particular aesthetic is so dead. I would admit to liking Ja in his commercial heyday, Kells's 'Snake,' 'Bump Bump Bump,' '03 Bonnie and Clyde,' as well as the great-grand-daddy of many of these tracks, Puff's 'Senorita.' 'Sunshine' a good song, no, that whole sound a fun one, yes, for me anyway.

Second, oh for the days when the worst thing in the world was rappers half-assing shit and making garbage for-da-ladeez tracks promising to treat their significant others like milk! For one thing, a lot of those songs have their stupid charms, particularly when the rapper is in on the joke of how much this sucks. (Think Neef on 'No Better Love.') That's not the case here, but the song's still funny. For another, there are so many worse things in the world than 'Sunshine' and its ilk. For instance, rappers who sing, or, rappers who decide to only sing, or, rappers who decide to only sing and only sing into shitty pitch correcting software. Then you've got rappers hanging on past their prime, which you're just seeing way more of now than 5 years back, when that was only an issue with LL and.... yeah, who else? Master P tried to do a comeback with Lil Jon but that shit was actually hilarious. Mase did a comeback, it yielded a couple of okay songs and hardly poisoned the landscape. Then you've got the inanity and dullness of someone like Drake. Of course, it's become totally okay to rap without actually knowing how, doing songs with Justin Timberlake and other people who really belong nowhere near a rap album's track list is de rigeur, lyrical types go pop with disastrous results (Common), fun ignorant types choose to attempt to please the bloggers who will never buy their albums anyway and work up their flows to the point where they're no fun anymore (Jeezy, Ross) - in short, the multitude of ways in which it's today possible to make a bad 'rap' record has expanded astronomically. Compared to most of them, 'Sunshine' seems positively purist.

* Amazingly, if it weren't for 'Slow Motion, 'Lean Back,' and 'Goodies,' two of which were great singles (and the third of which was utter garbage), 'Sunshine' would've been a #1 song. Speaking of 'Slow Motion,' it's notable that, in spite of Wayne's burgeoning stardom, Cash Money would not chart another #1 again until 'Lollipop.' In fact, unless I'm mistaken, Cash Money's first #1 single ever was 'Slow Motion' - from which it oddly follows that the two songs for which the label's known best weren't produced by Mannie Fresh, and don't even sound much like him, though 'Lollipop' bears a slight resemblance.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hurray, Crappy Videos For Songs That Are Actually Good

I just looked at onsmash for the first time in months and was strangely glad to see that Jim Jones is still alive. Hard to explain. Anyway, of the tiny number of new rap songs I've heard this year, 'Last 2' with Chris, Freeway and Beans is definitely one of the best. And now it has a video! A cheap crappy one! Isn't it something how these guys' old boss has entered the global celeb stratosphere at the same time that he ceased to be any good at making music, while his old super-talented crew members have become mixtape nobodies? Very odd. Especially since they've actually gotten better (with the exception of Beans, who just stays as great as he ever was) since they got cut. Has there ever been a scenario before where there was a whole label of incredibly gifted rappers that went from stardom to nowheresville for no good reason besides their label head being a dick? I used to get all exercised about the endless push-back of Styles's second album, but this is way worse.

Has the Rae leaked yet? I feel about this Cuban Linx 2 shit the way I feel about most attractive girls I meet down here. There's some small promise but odds are she's taken or her favorite movie ever is American Beauty. If only 'Wu Ohh' or whatever it's called had never happened I'd be expecting another Lex Diamonds dud and have nothing to worry about one way or another. Now there's actually a chance. Realistically I think you're probably seeing something like Masta Killa's first album on steroids. For instance, Meth kinda kills this but otherwise the song's pretty dull. GZA in particular needs to take a long walk.

More Lexington-Related Ramblings

Yes, that would be the chapel on my campus where Bobby Lee is buried.

One of the reasons that well-intentioned but mildly racist white guys like myself listen to rap is to stress how we're cooler than other white people. Because, you see, while those white people listen to that shamefully white music, we whites are listening to cool black people music. Of course, this presupposes that black people are all cool and all like good music, which is racist, and when, in reality, say, Cam's fanbase outside of Harlem largely consists, or consisted, of clever adolescent/early-20s Jewish folk like myself. While, obviously, there are many black folk who do have good taste in music, otherwise Gucci Mane and Styles P would be shit out of luck, I am always surprised, being a sheltered white guy whose interracial socializing kinda cut out around 2005, by the incredibly bad taste in rap that some blacks have. To wit, I took a drive out to Roanoke with the gorgeous Spelman grad, dude from Houston, and an Indianan who went to school in NOLA, and what did we listen to?

  1. 'Death of Autotune,' which Houston dude said he liked in spite of the awful beat because Jay kills it. "Listen to the lyrics!", he said over and over. Yeah, I'm hearing those shits and they aren't too good.
  2. Copious amounts of Graduation. Kanye's rapping on that album, apart from the decent stuff he's doing musically, is fairly abysmal.
  3. The Common/Pharrell disaster. Gorgeous Spelman grad professed amazement at how I could like Dipset and not care for Universal Mind Control.
  4. Plies. Of all the ignant Southern rappers, you go for Plies? (Spelman girl even said that she liked it but would be feeling it even more if she had a few shots of Patron.) I ethered that album last year. Though I will admit that 'Plenty Money' is kind of catchy ("what's in my pocket dog, BIG FACE HUNNIHS, JUST LEFT THE MALL, BOUGHT EVERYFING DAT I WAWWWNNID").
  5. Some really generic Houston club shit about dude's swagger.
  6. Suck-ass Black Album cuts. Not until the other day did I realize how mediocre the Black Album actually is and how fucking virtuosic the highlights of BP2 are compared. That forced bullshit at the end of 'My 1st Song' where Jay pretends to be a nice guy with friends he didn't screw over and phonily looks back nostalgically on his humble beginnings, ughhh. Even 'PSA' is kind of lame. He starts wheezing on the second verse, and shooting at actors like movie directors isn't that hot a line. That guy who used to write for SLAM and moved on to ESPN once wrote in Scratch that the 'Excuse Me Miss' remix (AKA 'La, La, La') was Jay's last great hurrah, and aside from 'Diamonds' and 'Go Crazy' guest spots I completely buy that. (In fact, the 'Excuse Me Miss' remix is to Jay what 'Glitter' is to Cam, a track that at the time meant little and looking back means everything.)
  7. On the plus side, we did listen to the new Maxwell, the first few bars of Gucci's verse on 'Obsession,' and Soulja Slim's classic, 'I'll Pay For It.' But I was also subjected to arguments on behalf of Lupe's crap song where he pretends to be a hamburger. ("It's really deep, he's talking about the game through the perspective of a hamburger.") In fact, gorgeous Spelman grad went so far as to say today that "Lupe can get it. He can get ALL of it." To which I averred that he's an ordinary-looking nerd in glasses. To which she countered that it doesn't matter because he be saying deep-ass shit. Not in those words though. Oh, and I also learned from Houston that there were not even 4 songs on Carter III that would hold up a few years from now. That's not true.
Of course, the next day I go to a drink-all-day house party with white folk and I listened to Asher Roth (did you know that Beans did a track with Asher Roth? 50 seconds of joy in the midst of all that suckitude), Girl Talk, and lots of post-retirement Jay. Some drip tried to tell me how great he still was, how '99 Problems' is Jay's best song ever, and how Wayne used to be really bad and got really good. It's not so, he's great on the old Hot Boys shits. Oh, and the one very cute black girl at the party loves Game, is from Oakland, and doesn't really care for Too Short. (In other bafflement, she likes Woody Allen but has never seen Annie Hall, while she loves Manhattan Murder Mystery. Nice girl though.) And the decidedly not-cute black girl at the party said that she couldn't talk to me anymore because I like No Limit and 2 or three songs by Soulja Boy. Another Lupe fan. Yeah, people are retarded.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Autobiographical Post On Rap And The White Guy

So I haven't heard any new music in, what, a month. Partly because of the Elvis kick, which has reached the point where I'm downloading 20 live versions of the same song, 15 takes of the same song, obscure soundtrack tunes from Elvis westerns (his western-y shit, by the way, is really really good, look up 'Flaming Star' and 'Lonesome Cowboy'), partly because of law school, and not so much because of the actual work, but rather because I go to a school with (a) 360 students, that is (b) in a tiny town in the mountains of Virginia where there is no one to meet but your classmates (yes, I'm very embarrassed that I'm only in the 25th best law school in the country, and you should be embarrassed to be reading the musings of such an idiot, but hey, I never went to class or read or studied at college, failed out after freshman year and here I am regardless, besides which, I'm transferring out after the first year, guaranteed), so therefore (c) you really have to get on the whole identifying who you're going to eat and more importantly sleep with over the next year thing before the key players start getting scooped up. The math is just sickening. So for the moment, little time to follow new music. Anyway, I could talk about the unifying power of Dipset fanhood across social and racial boundaries as it pertains to my foundering attempts to develop a social circle in this crazy bastion of Confederate pride, the irony of me, the mildly nerdy Jewish guy, attempting to convince the gorgeous Spelman grad over lunch that Master P at his best was vastly better than Lupe Fiasco ever was or will be, or whether Fall Out Boy, Coldplay, Billy Joel, and 'Rent' fanhood should get in the way of a relationship between oneself and a pair of amazing lips, but I do want to turn away from the intersection of music and my nascent law school sex life for a moment.

Rap and the white guy, rap and the white guy. I was actually reading The Root, Slate's black site, during my random period of H.L. Gates outrage, and I saw this essay by an Adam Mansbach about the Obama race speech, liking rap and being white, white privilege, and other related stuff. And I said to myself that everything he wrote was completely and disgustingly wrong and wrote a 10-page rant as to why. Don't want to reproduce that whole rant now, but I very briefly want to call attention to his discussion of the beginnings of his interest in rap as an adolescent lad. Mansbach says he got into hip-hop because it was one of the few things in American life at the time (time being late 80s, early 90s) that "dislocate[d] whiteness from its presumed position of centrality." It forced him to "ventur[e] out of comfort zones, render [him]self as different," and gave him a "chance to step away... from the nimbus of skin privilege and the complicity in injustice it afforded me." Now, I don't believe that white privilege exists, per se (which isn't to say that whites aren't a whole lot better off than blacks in America, but that's not what the term means), but putting that aside, I think this is a pretty fair description of the reason (or the reason given) that a lot of intelligent liberal white folks listen to rap. It's a political thing. You listen to rap, and you realize how awful our criminal justice system is, are made aware of the evils of structural discrimination, and at the same time you get this great window onto a piece of black culture. The latter of which is pretty hard to come by otherwise without actually spending time in certain neighborhoods, reading what may seem to a white person to be pretty inane books or magazines, or watching movies that, sorry, frankly are often awful. Of course, one could also listen to gospel or really dull generic r&b, which I might argue represents a bigger portion of the black population and definitely has a lot more to say to most blacks over 40, but that's not as politically charged and bores most whites, particularly liberal whites who aren't too stir-crazy about religion. So rap's this really great and convenient way for a liberal white guy to interface with black culture and legitimately feel like he's gaining some awareness without having to deal with the uncomfortable realities of the crappiness (and conservatism!) of something like the Tyler Perry franchise.

Needless to say, this isn't why I got into listening to rap. I wouldn't say that I got into rap for purely aesthetic and non-racial reasons. The absence of white faces and white voices is a big part of the allure of the genre for me. But I would say that for me it isn't at all about race and politics as such. (Of course, rap is about these things, but that's not why I listen.) I came to rap for a few reasons, a complex of reasons. In 2002, it sounded a lot better than what else was on the radio. For a person who cares about words, it's leagues beyond anything else out there. In rap, more than any other sort of music, words matter. Besides the aesthetics, I came to like that, unlike any other music I was aware of, rap openly talked about consumption and class, money and wealth, and did so in a frankly positive way, not some bullshit valorizing the coal miner and putting down his employers way, when the guy valorizing the coal miner makes more making that song than the coal miner could make in a hundred lifetimes. Not just because I'm a huge fan of capitalism and income inequality, but because I don't see how a genre can pretend to offer a serious commentary on 21st century American life and have nothing to say about these matters.

Most importantly for me, I liked that rap affirmed traditional notions of masculinity that aren't really on tap in contemporary white culture, or perhaps are in fratboy land but in such a douchey, beer-and-bros-obsessed form as to be completely unpaltable. At the same time, while rap wasn't whiny or bitch-ass, as what I tended to call white music for lack of any knowledge about it often was, it wasn't punky and adolescent. It's not very loud; actually it's often quite conservative and classicist (Premo, for example). It doesn't call on its listeners to grow their hair out and wear lots of black. In fact, it doesn't call on its white listeners to wear or really do anything; it just calls for respectful admiration from afar. For these reasons, rap actually fits quite well into the lifestyle of a preppy aspiring Jewish lawyer. To the extent that rap carried political messages I disagreed with, even anti-Semitic ones, I wasn't rankled by them at all, but enjoyed and continue to enjoy, in an aesthetic sense, the conviction and eloquence of the artists who offered them, and chalked up the messages themselves to the understandable but misguided frustrations of a downtrodden people. As for race, I didn't start listening to rap to learn about black people. I simply took for granted that rapping - like basketball, another growing interest at the time - was something blacks were better at. The way I vaguely saw it, white men have lost what it takes to rap. (If Elvis were alive today, or if even Mick Jagger had come along 30 years later, they'd be great rappers.)

But what this really comes down to, though, and I think this is true for a great number of rap fans, is the vicarious pleasure in others' masculinity, charisma, and yes, swagger. Of course, I don't listen to Illmatic to take vicarious pleasure in Nas's charisma. But I do listen to Jay for this reason. I do listen to No Limit for this reason. Someone in a cocaineblunts comment thread was arguing the other day that Jay lacks authenticity, and I said that that didn't matter so much because what Jay's pushing is this sort of abstracted version of Rakim, Kane, and LL's godbody-ness (Jay, the last great 80s rapper? He did get his start then, and his tutelage under a Kane rip-off), so yeah, it doesn't matter so much if it's a very constructed persona that lacks a whole lot of authentic detail because he's just so good at being Hova. (Weirdly, when I think of Jay, I sometimes think of that eye on top of the pyramid on our dollars, this sort of omniscient presence in the sky, floating and reigning above us all. I do think that's what he wants you to feel.) But I think that argument may only hold good so long as you think that stimulating vicarious pleasure in a rapper's swagger is a valid artistic aim for a rapper to be shooting for.

Where I start to question the "this rapper is great because he makes me feel like I own the world" critical response is with someone like a Jeezy, who only brings that to the table and ultimately leaves you feeling a little empty in an "I just listened to The Inspiration for the 30th time and yeah, it sure gave me a big dose of thug motivation, but... he's not saying anything" way. But to be honest, what actually led me to write this post was this absurd issue I have with a Mia X song. 'You Don't Wanna Go 2 War' is a fairly amazing edition of No Limit's generally stellar 'Soldiers' series (a series of posse cuts on No Limit albums which share elements of the 'No Limit Soldiers' beat and feature hooks about how the participants are "SOLDIERS"), probably the best after 'No Limit Soldiers' itself. Really do listen to the song. The hook, which you may never get out of your head after hearing the song, is shouted by Master P as only he can shout such inanities and goes:


Incidentally, the "I thought I told ya" part provokes some way-funnier-than-it-sounds-on-paper hilarity from Silkk, who says that "I'm an n-o, l-i, m-i-t soldier, I already tried and told ya, FUCK repeating myself over!" (Basically, NL's obsession with already having told us that they're soldiers neatly mirrors Puff's incessant "I thought I told you that we won't stop" refrain in this period.) Anyway, my problem is that, even though I haven't heard this song in a month, I can't get it out of my head, and it actually subtly affects my behavior. I go to business meetings for the family business and find myself being a huge prick towards our web programmers because in the back of my head I hear Master P reminding me that those web programmers don't want to go to war with a soldier. On the way to the business meetings, I'm thinking about how those fucktard programmers don't want to go to war with a soldier. In my house, I start ripping people's heads off (figuratively) because P is riling me up into picking fights over my roommate's unfairly caged dog. I walk around scowling after these fights because P has hypnotized me into thinking I'm a No Limit Soldier. Of course, I don't literally think these thoughts, but it's close. So I ask myself - is this pathetic? (Yes.) Perfectly legitimate? If Bach can make you feel spiritual and that's a decent enough reason to listen to Bach, what's wrong with Master P making me feel like a take-no-shorts No Limit Soldier? Is there something inherently absurd about the transposal of Master P's soldiering, which supposedly takes place in dangerous housing projects, involves selling crack, shooting rival dealers, etc., to arguments over our family business's website design, arguments which take place in air conditioned rooms in century-old buildings located in leafy white suburbs? One's inclined to say yes... but of course there's something absurd about the notion and the song to begin with. It's problems such as these, the applicability or lack thereof of rap to one's own life, that vex the apolitical white rap head.

Mia X f. Master P, C-Murder, Silkk The Shocker, and Mystikal - 'You Don't Wanna Go 2 War,' Unlady Like (1997).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On a Brief Basketball Note (Talkin' That Comeback Shit)

Before you ask, law school's easy. Anyway, a few weeks back I saw that Iverson breaking down in tears over the end of his career video, and I was terribly struck by what a relic Iverson's become. He's very much a mid-90s, turn of the century man in a very post-90s era. A realness man in a post-realness era. Hearing Iverson talk really takes you back to the days when two thirds of the Lox were featured in shoe commercials, when songs like 'Mighty D-Block' were not only possible but became hits, when we were still living in the world that Mobb Deep built. Ron Artest is often associated with P and Hav, but his persona, if not his game itself, is way more H.N.I.C. 2 than it is Infamous. Rap today is a whole lot more whimsical and ludic and a whole lot less grim. And Iverson's very out of step with that. Anyway, today I learned from Bethlehem Shoals, professional NBA twitter-comber, that Iverson is in fact about to go to one of three teams, and said so on his twitter. Mssr. Shoals, being a fan of culturally impactful but basketball-detrimental players like Iverson, is elated over this news, which is his right, but I do think he is missing the strangely familiar pathos (and bathos) in this series of A.I. twitters:

Looking forward to getting back to work myself! I am so ready to return to the NBA! Stronger, Faster and So much Wiser!...

I have had a year to get ready, my back is fine now don't worry. When you see me again you will think that I am fresh out of Georgetown!

I have heard all of the doubters, but they should know that I willnot be broken and I will remain true to my fans. I spoke with my manager the other day and told him that I am again a student of the game. I am studying video and breaking down film. I want to be the best that I can be. One doesn't plan to fail, they fail to plan. I am planning for my comeback. Plan to hear from me daily on

When I read these twitters, I'm reminded of nothing so much as pronouncements made in the past 5 or so years by various washed-up 90s rappers as to the excellence of their latest abortive comeback. When we see him again we will think that he's fresh out of Georgetown? Yes, and Prodigy promised me that Amerikaz Nightmare would be the best album the group ever made. (It's actually pretty good.) Then he said the same thing about Infamy. (Not so great but still underrated.) Cam promised it would be a hot summer in front of that baby pool. Then he recorded nothing, and then recorded Crime Pays, which is worse. Tek and Steele actually said that their 9th Wonder-weedcarrier helmed comeback would be better than Dah Shinin because they were picking their own beats. I don't remember what it was called. Jay's been promising a follow-up to Reasonable Doubt since 2003. Nas actually did a magazine cover with Premo for an album that never began to be recorded because both parties probably know how much it would underwhelm. A.I., student of 90s hip-hop, is so steeped in this rhetoric that he's promising a comeback when he never even left. He got sat for about a month for sucking and is now trying to promulgate this fiction where the Detroit season never happened (what "year to get ready"?), like it's the lost year from which he'll rebound and stage his comeback. Like it's his Nastradamus or something. A deviation from the straight and narrow way of realness caused by commercial pressures outside the artist's control, not a real part of his catalogue, excused by true fans who understand and keep the faith. (Joe Budden fans take a similar line on Joe's one hit ever, 'Pump It Up.') As NORE said on his Premo-laced comeback,

Melvin Flynt dropped, my whole colosso stopped,
I can't believe I fucked up and made a half-assed album
But my excuse is, my pops just died
And I didn't want to make music, my pops just died

My fans stuck with me...

And just like a NORE or Jay or Nas or Mobb or Tek and Steele, the comeback, the latest attempt at regained relevancy, is billed as a return to past greatness. Jay has his sequels to Reasonable Doubt (1996); Iverson says he'll be the player he was at Georgetown (in '96). Will Iverson be stillmatic? Of course not, not that I necessarily blame him for trying to fool us and himself into thinking otherwise. I just find it fascinating that in a business where, unlike rap, Iverson doesn't even have to bullshit us about comebacks and such to get paid, Iverson is such a product of his era that, if not for the references to basketball, one wouldn't be able to distinghish his twitter from a Nas press release.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dogs Are Colorblind

My dog.

So my city's football team has signed Michael Vick. Not really being an Eagles fan, I'm less than outraged, but as a Philadelphian, I am disappointed. When the local 11 o'clock news said that Vick was currently staying at the Four Seasons at Center City, I felt a twinge of disgust that the monster was in my town. And I imagine that when I see him step on the field in an Eagles uniform, I'll be fairly nauseated, and when he makes his first decent play and our fans cheer, I'll be embarrassed to be a Philadelphian. I want to note at the outset that I'm actually quite sympathetic to the view that the league itself has no business meting out punishment to Vick. If the Commissioner wanted to ban VIck outright because of the repuational damage he could do to the league, I would find that a perfectly defensible business decision, just as I don't think anyone would complain if, say, the major news networks colluded to effectively ban an anchor who was widely known to enjoy killing kittens, but to hand out these suspensions for off-field conduct strikes me, somehow, as absurd, like the league's creating this pseudo-judicial system that parallels the real one. That said, I've also felt from the outset that whichever team eventually signed him would be doing a pretty despicable thing, and want to briefly combat claims that (a) Vick deserved this second chance, (b) that the outcry against Vick is largely born out of racism and as such is illegitimate, and (c), that since dogfighting is fairly popular among people of Vick's race and socioeconomic background, Vick is somehow less culpable because he was just "looking to keep it real," trying "to remain connected to [his] people," and couldn't necessarily have known better because dogfighting was the norm in the community in which he was raised.

First, let's recall what Vick actually did. Vick was not merely guilty of hosting and funding a dogfighting operation (that is to say, hosting and funding an operation where dogs were forced to bite each other to death, brutally killed when they lose fights, tied to poles and raped when they didn't feel like breeding), or even of just being an active participant in his kennel. As Vick himself specifically admitted and as his closest friends testified, he personally shot, hung, electrocuted, drowned, and beat dogs to death, and hid the bodies afterwards. And crucially, because killing dogs is a state crime but isn't a federal one (whereas dogfighting is), and the hard evidence that Vick personally killed dogs wasn't there, though Vick did admit to doing so as part of his plea bargain, Vick never served a day for these crimes, though they did play a small role as aggravating factors in his sentencing.

Moreover, Vick consistently lied about his wrongdoing, first denying that any dogfighting went on at his mansion at all, then admitting that it did but claiming that he didn't know and expressing great remorse that he hadn't been more careful, then pleading innocent, then pleading guilty once his co-defendants did, then lying in his guilty plea about whether he actually killed dogs in an attempt to save what was left of his public image, then admitting that he did after he failed polygraph tests. He then wrote a note to the judge pleading for leniency, claiming that "all the dogs were in good health and I've always made sure of the continuous upkeep of all my dogs and animals," "I grew up loving animals and still to this day I have Paso Fino horses, parrots, fish tanks and lizards," and that he "was not the bad person...I've been made out to be," but rather "a very humble, soft spoken, and caring guy. Also kinda shy." He also "PROMISE[d] that I will never again use a single dollar that I have earned for anything but to help people," and made much of the fact that every Thanksgiving he gave out turkeys, arguing that "there's someone out there who needs me" and his turkeys and that the judge shouldn't imprison him and deny the poor of Atlanta his charitable services. Today in his press conference he spoke in terms of 'mistakes' and 'bad judgement,' which is a pretty ridiculously milquetoast way to describe hanging three dogs from a tree because they're losing you dogfighting bets. (If Vick wasn't actually a sadistic nut and just got lured into dogfighting for cultural reasons, why, pray tell, couldn't he have paid some hanger-on to surreptitiously drop off the dogs he had no use for at the SPCA? You know, just like he gave someone a hundred bucks to bury his dogs on his land after he hung them.) His latest bullshit apology is coming Sunday in the form of a 60 Minutes interview, where Vick explains:

It's wrong, man…I feel, you know, some tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should have took the initiative to stop it all…I didn't-- I didn't step up. I wasn't a leader.

He didn't step up. Of course, this makes it sound as if all Vick is guilty of is failing to stand up to his crazed dog-killing weedcarriers, when in reality Vick did take all sorts of initiative - to brutally kill dogs, and to do so in rather inexpedient ways which suggest, as witnesses testified, that he was getting sick pleasure out of the whole thing. So no, Vick is not contrite, and yes, he committed numerous atrocities. If the case against him had been weaker, if the friends he repeatedly tried to pin it on hadn't had the decency to plead guilty, who could doubt that this "humble, soft spoken and caring guy" would have spent the last two years continuing to lead his fun-filled life of casual drug use, dogfights, strip clubs, and giving groupies herpes? To claim that it's not only okay for a team to give Vick a second chance, but that Vick actually deserves that second chance, is to claim that serving the time suggested by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines - time given to Vick solely for the federal dogfighting conspiracy charge and not for his hanging, drowning, electrocuting, and slamming dogs against concrete until they died of a broken back, acts for which he's actually gone totally unpunished - is equivalent to moral absolution. To sign him now, just two years after he entered a plea of innocent, after he's showed so little contrition, is really to suggest that he has fairly little to be contrite about, to tell kids that it's okay to root for a serial dog killer. Personally I'm more repulsed by this signing than I would be if Vick were a serial killer of people, in much the same way that I suspect most people are more repulsed by infanticides than garden-variety murders. But even if you don't feel quite as strongly as I do, how anyone could welcome this news is beyond me. Even if Vick had served time for the truly atrocious crimes he committed, the fact that there's little if any reason to believe that it ever dawned on him that what he did was horribly wrong - not just really bad for his career - would make it very difficult to support this move.

But, say many, the outrage over Vick's crimes is really all about race. People latched onto the Vick case because Vick was "a [once[ poor, black other who suddenly represented the things people don't like about poor black people." To which I say, yes, in part, and so what? For starters, just because some people hate a person, policy, type of music, whatever for bigoted reasons doesn't mean that others aren't right to hate that person or thing for non-bigoted reasons. Racism doesn't end the conversation. For instance, I have no doubt that the commentators who chalk up the anger over Obama's healthcare proposals to race are right about some of the people who hate Obama's healthcare proposals. (Though of course, white Presidents haven't had much luck reforming healthcare either, so we should have serious doubts about the extent to which race is driving the unpopularity of this intiative.) But that doesn't make Obama's proposals good proposals. I have no doubt that many of the Republicans who wish Michael Steele had never been born do so, in part, because the guy's black. But it's also true that Michael Steele's a moron. Lastly, no one can deny that a ton of the hate spewed over Sarah Palin was appallingly sexist, and it's very likely the case that if Sarah Palin were a man her choice wouldn't have crippled McCain and might have been a pretty minor issue, just as Dan Quayle's choice was in spite of his being just as big an idiot. But if anything, I'm grateful that people opposed Palin for sexist reasons. Without that sexism, she probably wouldn't have gotten the harsh scrutiny she so richly deserved, and just might have been elected Vice President.

So even if it were true that things would've been very different for Vick if he were white, even if it were the case that a federal investigation never would've happened if he were white, I'd say that (a) he'd still deserve everything he got, and more, and (b) it's lucky for us that he wasn't white - indeed, lucky for us that whites in America do get particularly outraged about crimes committed by poor and formerly poor black men. Lucky because, had he been white and had no one cared about his crimes because, you know, we're just this big ole nation of bigots who only get upset over dogs getting electrocuted to death with jumper cables if the people doing the electrocuting are of color, we never would've had a national conversation about the evils of dogfighting and animal cruelty, and Vick's dogs never would've been rescued. To those who are so concerned about the role Vick's race played in his punishment and the public reaction to his offenses, I'd ask, what do you think somebody who gets kicks out of hanging, drowning, and frialating his own dogs deserves as far as jail time, public scorn, and damage to his career? Particularly when that somebody's career is essentially being the public face of whichever city he works in, and particularly when society is done zero harm, zilch, when potential employers refuse to avail themselves of his services. It isn't like the guy's a gifted neurosurgeon, or a schoolteacher, or even a farmer. Nobody benefits from Michael Vick getting a job in the NFL except the few people who live off of him, and given his past track record of choice in friends and discretionary spending, I don't think this is a person whose crew you want to sponsor.

But, we're told, Vick's crime is typical among poor southern blacks, particularly typical in the community where Vick grew up. Reportedly so, although I'm less certain that drowning, frying, and hanging the dogs who lose is so typical among people of Vick's background. But even if we assume that an inability to distinguish between dogs and insects is endemic among poor black men, I don't see where that gets you. Lots of deplorable behaviors were endemic to poor southern white men of a certain period in our nation's history, and we don't go around excusing them. Still less would we say of, say, a poor early twentieth-century Alabaman who went off to Harvard, got rich in the railroad business, but still came home periodically to enthusiastically participate in lynchings that he was just trying to keep it real and remain connected to the community he came from. We might explain his behavior in that way, but we'd also note that the community he was trying so hard to stay connected to had some pretty sick and twisted values. Part of the reason that white outrage over Vick does seem suspiciously racial is that whites are legitimately concerned that blacks seem to take animal cruelty a great deal less seriously than we do. Whether it's Vick, Vick's friends, the community of black dogfighting enthusiasts in which he was supposedly brought up, the many black athletes and commentators who leapt to his defense two years ago, or the black men and women on the street on last night's local news who all were somewhere between mildly pleased and disturbingly ecstatic that a dog-killer was joining our city's football team, there are a great many blacks who just don't seem to think that drowning your family pet is that big a deal. In closing, then, you can't have it both ways. If you want to excuse or explain away Vick's crimes with race, go ahead; it probably is hard to know what's right and wrong when you're brought up by people who can't tell the difference, and it probably is hard to turn your back on the pathologies of your people. But don't then cry racism when Vick is used as a vehicle to voice white displeasures with poor black culture in general. One or the other is at fault. In fact, both are.

My Favorite Blog Comment (That I've Made)

Think, Jayceon, think hard.

[About a year ago, Jeff Weiss, who normally has decent taste, wrote a piece about what an amazing song Game's 'My Life' was, wildly praising it for its "triumphalist attitude." Of course, "My Life" is really awful warmed-over 'Hate It Or Love It' gruel with no great 50 verse, made marginally interesting because in it we learn that Biggie, Kanye, and Game himself are all equivalent to or reincarnations of Jesus. (This is really just Game's subtle way, by virtue of the transitive property, of claiming that he's Biggie's equal without raising listeners' hackles and getting himself committed.) I chalked it up to regional parochialism - you know, just as I used to defend Ness because he was from Philly, Jeff Weiss defends Game because he's from LA. (Ness is a way better rapper than Game though.) Nevertheless, I wrote an epic comment about how retarded Game's 'My Life' was, and am reproducing it today for no particular reason at all. (Actually, I was reminded of Game when the foreign policy blogosphere started talking about Game's Jay dissing in terms of f.p. strategy and all parties in the discussion bizarrely seemed to believe that Game and Jay both are/still are great rappers.) Speaking of raps called 'My Life,' Styles had a pretty great one on his first album, if you can suffer through Pharoahe Monch's singing voice. Styles really has to be the most underrated and consistent rapper of the decade. Particularly if you ignore his crappy albums, which I don't usually do but do hypocritically in the case of Styles because he's not from da souf. And not so hypocritically because, unlike a Wayne or whomever, Styles has never been given a proper album budget and missed the boat on the golden days of mid-90s beats, which suit him best. Anyway, back to Game's 'My Life.' One thing my comment alludes to but doesn't quite make plain is that when Game decided he didn't want to say anything nasty about Eminem and pulled the lines name-dropping Eminem and Proof from the song, he replaced them with lines name-dropping Erick Sermon and Jesse Jackson. Which just kills me. It's as if he has a quota of famous people he has to mention in each verse.]

Okay, nice triumphalist attitude, but he namedrops twenty rappers in the first ten seconds of the song! I mean, what is it about this guy that he can’t talk about himself without relating his experiences to those of dead performing artists? Seriously, let’s break this nonsense down. He starts out like so:

“Take me away from the hood in the casket or a Bentley
Take me away
Like I overdosed on cocaine”

Car Brand Namedrop No. 1.

“Take me away like a bullet from Kurt Cobain
Suicide (suicide, suicide)”

Oh no - is someone having “Suicidal Thoughts”? Don’t worry, Game will go there shortly…

“I’m from a Windy City, like Do or Die”

Apparently Game has so little to say that he fills up his bars with namedrops of obscure midwestern rap groups that confuse the listener into thinking he’s from Chicago. Fortunately anyone who’s ever listened to another one of his songs knows he’s from COMPTON, COMPTON, COMPTON. Home of Cube, Yella, Eazy, Dre, Ren, The Arabian Prince, and street knowledge.

“From a block close to where Biggie was crucified”

But just in case this is your first experience with Game’s smooth lyrical stylings, he clears that up - by mentioning another dead performing artist! You’d think the Guinness Book of World Records was giving out awards for most dead rappers mentioned in one song or something.

“That was Brooklyn’s Jesus
Shot for no fuckin’ reason”

As long as we’re talking about Biggie, let’s talk about him! Doesn’t matter that he’s not what the fucking song is supposed to be about.

“And you wonder why Kanye wears Jesus pieces?”

Huh? You lost me. Is this some kind of word association game? Is Game undergoing Freudian analysis?

“Cause that’s Jesus, people
And The Game, he’s the equal”

We come full circle!

“Hated on so much, The Passion of Christ need a sequel”

Biggie = Jesus = Kanye = Jesus = Game = Jesus.

“Yeah, like Roc-a-fella needed Sigel”

Just like that! Wait…

what is like that? Oh…

the movie needs a sequel like Roc-A-Fella needed Sigel. So clever, and it rhymes!

“Like I needed my father, but he needed a needle
I need some meditation, so I can leave my people”

Does “my father” count as a namedrop? And in case you’ve lost track:

Passion Of Christ needing a sequel

is like

Roc-A-Fella needing Sigel

which is “like”

Game needing his father (who needed a needle)

but not so much like

Game needing meditation (???) so he can leave his people. Game: Miley Cyrus’s SAT prep teacher in his spare time.

“They askin’ “Why?” Why did John Lennon leave The Beatles?
And why every hood nigga feed off evil?”

Game really wanted to mention Jadakiss here, but that wouldn’t have helped his pursuit of the Record For Most Dead Musicians Mentioned in One Rap Song, and John Lennon is dead, so…

“Answer my question before this bullet leave this Desert Eagle”

Game will gun you down if you’re not up on your Beatles trivia.

[Wayne warbling into autotune while Game leafs through ego trip’s book of rap lists in search of list of dead rappers]

“We are not the same, I am a Martian”

From namedropping dead rappers, we pivot to allusions to bad songs, for 500 please.

“So approach my Phantom doors with caution”

Car Brand Namedrop No. 2.

“You see them 24’s spinnin’? I earned them
And all the pictures of me and Em, I burned them”

Logical progression of thought.

“So there ain’t no proof that I ever walked through 8 Mile
And since there ain’t no Proof, I never walked through 8 Mile”

Pivots back to dead rappers.

“Sometimes I think about my life with my face down”

Then he goes back to writing cards for Hallmark.

“Then I see my sons and put on that Kanye smile
Damn, I know his momma’s proud
And since you helped me sell my “Dream,” we can share my momma now”

Pivots back to allusions to bad songs. [On a serious note, only Game is so committed to name-dropping that he discusses sharing his momma with a random momma-less producer. Did Kanye even do this beat? If not, why is the whole song about him?]

“And like MJB, ‘No More Drama’ now”

Game would’ve worked in a reference to Dre-produced Family Affair instead, but that would violate the terms of the comprehensive restraining order Dre filed against him in COMPTON COMPTON COMPTON municipal court.

“Livin’ the good life, me and Common on common ground”

At first I thought Game had gotten Common confused with T-Pain (they both wear hats in their videos, albeit T-Pain’s are more of the Dr. Seuss variety), but then I remembered that seminal T.I./Common collabo. (Totally Forgettable Song Namedrop No. 4. All coming in 20 seconds.) Game’s like an elephant - he never forgets - and like Noreaga, he carries bodies in his trunk.

“I spit crack and niggas could drive it outta town
Gotta Chris Paul mind state, I’m never outta bounds”

Chris Paul is neither dead, nor a rapper - as DMX once asked Cam, what’s really good?

“My life used to be empty like a glock without a round
Now my life full, like a chopper with a thousand rounds (Gunshots)”

The (Gunshots) represent the fullness of Game’s life.

[Wayne warbles some more as Game weighs in on SOHH as to who’s better - Jay-Z or Nas.]

“Walk through the gates of Hell, see my Impala parked in front”

Car Brand Namedrop No. 3.

“The high beams on, me and the Devil share chronic blunts
Listening to the “Chronic” album, playing backwards
Shootin’ at pictures of Don Imus for target practice”

blah blah blah.

“My mind f**ked up, so I cover it with a Raider hood”

That way, we won’t be able to see into his mind with our x-ray vision and perceive its fucked-up-ness. (Headwear Namedrop No. 1.)

“I’m from the city that made you motherf**kers afraid of Suge (Compton… Compton…)”

A) You already told us where you’re from. Remember, where Biggie got crucified? A windy city?


C) The city made us afraid of Suge? I thought it was his menacing demeanor.

“Made my grandmother pray for good
And never made her happy, when I bet that new Mercedes could”

Car Brand Namedrop No. 4, Psychotic Non Sequitur No. 89423.

“Ain’t no bars, but niggas can’t escape the hood
They took so many of my niggas, that I should hate the hood
But it’s real niggas like me, that make the hood”

A little Juelz Santana circa 2003 flow for you.

“Ridin’ slow in that Phantom just the way I should
With the top back
In my Sox hat”

Car Brand No. 5, Headwear Namedrop No. 2.

“I’m paid in full, the nigga Alpo couldn’t stop that”

Couldn’t forget the cinema.

“Even if they brought the nigga ‘Pac back
I’d still keep this motherf**ker cocked back”

And you thought he’d go a whole song without mentioning Pac! Shame on you!

[Young Wayne On Them Hoes, AKA Mr. Make It Rain On Them Hoes wa-a-a-a-a-arbles some more while Game reads over restraining order from Dre, and, upon discovering said order forbids him from name-dropping not only Dre, but anyone on the Aftermath record label, records new version namedropping Erick Sermon and Jesse Jackson instead.]

Grassley Grassley

I have no idea whether the healthcare legislation currently being proposed would do much good or not, from what I read the reforms sound fairly inadequate at best, but please, can't our political system do better than this:

The questioner, Cheri Heiland, persisted, telling Grassley, "You know there is nothing in the House bill that will require any elderly person to stand before a committee and decide whether or not they are going to live or die." Much of the crowd booed and said she was wrong. The senator instead [of agreeing with her totally accurate claim] went on to condemn the idea of end-of-life counseling, no matter how it is structured.

"I think the best thing to do is if you want people to think about the end of life, number one, Jesus Christ is the place to start, and after that, in the physical life, as opposed to your eternal life, it ought to be done within the family and considered a religious and ethical issue and not something that politicians deal with," he said.

Even as a Jew, I happily acknowledge that Jesus Christ is great and stuff, but Jesus Christ cannot help you write a living will. More generally, does America really have the dumbest politicians in the world (or at least the world of advanced democracies), or does it just seem that way? And if the former, why?

I Predicted Dipset Christmas

I'm packing up for law school, so you won't be seeing Part 2 of my thoughts on MJ, the rest of Cam Week/Month/Season, and a forthcoming and probably spurious compari-piece on Elvis's 'Now Or Never' and MJ's 'Give In To Me' for a little while, but as I was emptying out my desk, I found an e-mail I wrote 6 years ago in which I actually predicted A Dipset Christmas. So naturally I wanted to inform you of my sagacious wisdom. Dipset XMas was a huge disappointment (no Cam!) aside from Max B mumblesinging "fa la la la la la, a Dipset Christmas" and that stellar moment on 'Wish List' when Jim recounts Christmases selling crack and then poses this question:

Is that the proper way to spend your holidays? (NOPE!)
Locked up downstate a hundred miles away? (It's fucked UP!)

But after replaying that a dozen times it ceased to crack me up. Nevertheless, I'm proud to say that I saw Dipset Christmas coming three years avant la weedplate. In a note I wrote to some girl, I half-seriously suggested that Ja Rule's credibility was so shot that a rapper ternt sanger Christmas duets album with Ashanti could actually be a smart career move (this predated the 'New York'/'Wonderful' semi-comeback). I then suggested other Christmas rap candidates, including Master P, Mike Jones ("I'm in my sleigh, switching lanes - oh wait, it's the sky, there are no lanes!"), Jeezy (a double album - one side Frosty the Snowman, one side Santa pitching 'Christmas gifts'), Dipset ("Little girls see the toys, they're like, Oh Boy, their moms say, Cam dropped some cute outfits down the chimney, Oh Boy"), Juelz ("would you like some crack with that hot cocoa/fiends know I keep that hot cocoa/bitches like me because I sell that hot cocoa/they hop in my sleigh and drink up my hot cocoa/they eat up my chestnuts right/because they know I have the biggest chestnuts, right? (right)") and finally Nas:

This is perfect for him. He could do his stupid conscious songs where he reflects on the inequalities of Christmas. Then he could do his creepy sex raps where he could talk about fucking Eskimos and Mrs's Claus's waist-to-ass ratio. Then he could remix 'Hate Me Now' for the holidays, with Nas as Santa. Diddy would scream, Santa Season has returned! As Nas murmurs, "it's been a long time... approximately 12 months..." Then Nas would say stupid crap like, why you mad, 'cause I deliver all the gifts, and I ride in a sleigh and fucked your Eskimo bitch?

Not that funny but whatever.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pay Tray's Elvis Mix

One reason I haven't gotten around to writing Part 2 of the Michael Jackson post is that I've been listening to too much Elvis. If you look at any popular Elvis youtube video right now, you'll notice that it's covered with comments from typically idiotic youtube commenters arguing over who was better, Elvis or Michael Jackson. Dumb argument, but I do think the two belong together in many ways. Putting that aside, I'm not sure how highly Elvis is rated these days, don't read enough (or any) rock criticism to know, but it strikes me he's underrated, mostly because I've always underrated him myself. And that's because his best-known songs, the ones I knew - 'Hound Dog,' 'Love Me Tender,' 'Jailhouse Rock,' 'Don't Be Cruel,' 'All Shook Up' - aren't anywhere close to being his best stuff. Not to go all "so and so's major label recordings aren't any good, you have to go back to his early independent work to hear him in his pure, raw form" on you, but Elvis's early independent work really is that good. As are his famed late-60s comeback recordings. Anyway, you probably know all that, but in case you, like me a couple short weeks ago, are sadly Elvis-ignorant, or if you just want a pretty decent 1-disc Elvis compilation, I'm posting the Elvis mix I've been playing in my car the last few days so as to offer a very quick and dirty primer on yes, the finest American recording artist of the past half-century. Sort of a Greatest Hits without any of the Mega Hits and a bunch of the merely huge ones, along with a few unhearalded B-sides and album cuts. It's all in roughly chronological order, from his first single to one of his last, except for the live recordings, which are all from the same 1969 performance in Vegas and are inserted in suitable spots.

1. That's All Right. (Elvis's first single.)
2. Blue Moon of Kentucky.
3. My Happiness. (This is the first song Elvis ever recorded, ostensibly as a birthday present for his mother.)
4. Blue Moon.
5. Milkcow Blues Boogie.
6. Mystery Train.
7. Mystery Train/Tiger Man (Live).
8. Heartbreak Hotel.
9. I Got A Woman.
10. I Gotta Know.
11. That's Someone You Never Forget.
12. Suspicious Minds.
13. Suspicious Minds (Live).
14. Wearin' That Loved On Look.
15. Any Day Now.
16. You'll Think Of Me.
17. My Little Friend.
18. Kentucky Rain.
19. Long Black Limousine.
20. Stranger In My Own Home Town.
21. I Got A Feelin' In My Body.
22. Moody Blue.
23. Can't Help Falling In Love (Live).

Pay Tray Does Elvis